Solving Shazam’s Situation

Once upon a time, there was a superhero. His name was Captain Marvel, he had powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man, and he outsold Superman.

Detective Comics, Inc. didn’t like Captain Marvel (especially that last part), and so they did what every big corporation does when they find themselves unable to compete in the marketplace of ideas: they sued for copyright infringement.

Fawcett, the good Captain’s corporate master, won on a technicality. So DC wished Fawcett well and went on their merry way.

They did so by appealing the verdict and winning a new trial (official ruling: Cap himself did not infringe Superman, but certain specific individual stories might, which became what the new trial would be about). By this point the market for superhero comics had faded, so Fawcett decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation. They settled, and got out of the comic publishing industry completely.

Decades later, the staff at DC realized that there might be a market for those old Fawcett characters after all, and so they went to Fawcett Publications and acquired a license to publish them.

And then they hit a roadblock. Enter one Stan Lee, who had discovered that there was a lapsed trademark for a character who shared his name with the company he was affiliated with. The marketing opportunity was too good to pass up, but rather than go to Fawcett for their Captain Marvel, he and his team came up with their own character for that name.

Which left DC in a bit of a pickle, since Marvel’s trademark was perfectly legitimate. So, rather then revive the comic that the Captain first appeared in, Whiz Comics, they decided to name their new series after the old wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers, and whose name was the magic word that triggered the transformation.


And it must have worked, because the character had action figures, tv shows (both live action and animated). Character name Captain Marvel, series name Shazam.

Confusing? Must be, because TV Tropes uses this situation as the name for any time names get mixed up like this. Not Frankenstein/Frankenstein’s monster, but Captain Marvel/Shazam.

Come 2012, and DC finally decides to throw in the towel. Their latest relaunch of the character is going by the name Shazam. I guess the new version of Billy Batson was a big Gomer Pyle fan or something.

What else could have been done?

One obvious solution would be to sell the character (minus reprint right for any and all appearances in the Post-Crisis DC universe, including the cartoons Justice League Unlimited and Batman the Brave and the Bold, because he was a fairly prominent B-level character) to Marvel/Disney, let Pixar make an animated movie and let Joss Whedon kill Uncle Dudley or somebody on the road to Avengers 2. Won’t ever happen, of course, and not the least of which is because the last thing Marvel needs is another character named Captain Marvel (there have been at least five by this point:the original, his son/clone, his female counterpart–who I’ve mentioned briefly in my Secret Wars II pieces), a brainwashed evil shapeshifting alien who was posing as the original, and an unrelated woman who led the Avengers for awhile).

Because comics, everybody!

The other obvious solution involves a bit of useless historical knowledge. See, Captain Marvel was not Fawcett’s first choice for their hero. They wanted to call him Captain Thunder, but trademark issues (a military man named Captain Terry Thunder in Jungle Comics) made them change it before publication.

But, that particular trademark lapsed long ago, and the name’s free for the taking.

Take it, DC. Let the character have a series with his own name. It would even help explain the lightning bolt on his chest.

Clark Kent, intrepid blogger?

I may have said this before, but my days of weekly trips to the local comic shop are long behind me, and so it is that I didn’t find out about Superman’s new civilian job (spoilers: Superman is Clark Kent) until I read about it as Transforming Seminarian

Mark makes the point that DC has periodically tried (and failed) get Kent off the newspaper beat since they tried making him a TV anchor back in the seventies (for context, this was also an era when Batman moved out of stately Wayne Manor into a downtown penthouse–I think there was something in the water that made silly ideas make sense). I clearly remember a time in the nineties when Luthor bought the Daily Planet, shut it down, and moved everyone except Clark over to his cable news network. That was undone, and I’m sure this blogging thing will be undone at some point, too. Probably in time for the next movie.

How would I handle the seemingly-inevitable death of the newspaper?

The first step is to recognize that using Clark Kent the reporter to find things for Superman to do has worked as a storytelling gimmick for decades, and while the context of his reporting may change, there’s no reason to think that shouldn’t continue. The key is in making sure that Kent is given enough unsupervised working time that he can go be Superman without people wondering where he is. Turn the Planet into a cable news channel, but make him a grunt who goes out to find the stories that other people go on TV to talk about. And let him write stories for the channel’s associated website, so people know who he is.

Really, was that so hard?